I’ve never met bartender Mike Wolf, but he had me at “Welcome to the terroir-dome.” Garden to Glass, his first book, is a thoroughly lovely and seriously inspiring look at leveraging homegrown ingredients to amp up your home bartending situation, but it’s more than that, containing all kinds of interviews and anecdotes as well as recipes and instructions.
This book is unbelievably charming and accessible, and it’s full of the kind of part-artsy, part-homesteader spirit shared by several of my favorite writers. Want to know how to make candied angelica? You can learn. Want to know what the hell angelica is and why you would want it, candied or otherwise? Ditto. This book will answer burning questions such as “But what do I do with the Biblical plague of mint that has turned my entire yard into a deliciously fragrant apocalyptic hellscape?” and “I want to waste less of the groceries I buy; what can I do with these dill stems?” (spoiler: use them as tasty, festive straws!). “So like can I eat the mulberries growing on that tree in the park?” and “Is there a redeeming value to the dandelions currently laying waste to my lawn?” are also covered amply (yes, and absolutely respectively). If you want to make a Pimms punch people will still be talking about long after lawn party season has gone into hibernation, Wolf will embolden you to look to the shocking wealth of delicious botanicals hiding in plain sight in your yard or along local sidewalks and trails. If you’ve always wished someone would make a nasturtium vodka, pick up this book and that someone can be you. If food waste is a bee in your bonnet (and yo, it should be), this book will give you ideas on how to take a few snazzy, artful steps toward reducing it. Whatever your perspective or prism, if you like a good cocktail, or appreciate botany, or just always want to know how things are made-Garden to Glass is a wise, unpretentious, inviting read.
Those of us who garden, and especially those of us who love growing herbs, already know the funky little thrill of belonging and self-sufficiency that comes with successfully turning little tiny seeds into plants that can feed us, delight our senses, even heal our ailments. If you are one of those people, this book will come across as a huge, happy affirmation to keep doing what you’re doing (and maybe plant some borage if you don’t already grow it!) and to follow through on that instinct to craft bitters from your celery tops or citrus peels, or to infuse vodka with the amazing crop of heady-smelling violets that popped up in the yard. If you’re a novice, and you read this book and feel no desire to put some strawberries and basil in a windowsill pot, I’d rather recommend reading it again.
Wolf discusses biodynamic farming practices, history, family life, foraging and more. He alternates between musings and eminently practical instruction, all in a tone of affable enthusiasm and approachable smarts. His writing is openhearted and casual, keenly descriptive and indicative of a compellingly wide-ranging intellect. This is a forager’s book for sure-and I include those whose foraging ground is actual books; you can open it at random and harvest something good from whatever falls open. His curiosity is broad and totally infectious.
Here’s the deal: If you love wine and spirits, you are already in a deeply enmeshed relationship not only with botanicals but with history. Like perfumery, distillation and fermentation are ways of preserving moments-preserving ingredients, sure, but just as wine is an expression of a particular grape harvest, the infused vodka in your cupboard might preserve the decadent sugary scent of the giant bank of honeysuckle you found running riot over a fence last summer. When you drink nocino you are participating in a conversation that goes back to before the Romans, and when you make your own, you’re participating in a practice with complex historical and anthropological roots, rife with symbolism and power. Obviously you can still enjoy the way it tastes without knowing that tradition decrees the green walnuts be harvested on June 24th, the feast day of St. John. But are you really willing to argue that the experience can’t be enhanced by being more aware of the connections, the history, the confluence of myth and science that go into your drink? I’m not.
Garden to Glass is a gleaner’s delight, and it’s bound to make a committed forager or gardener of many who pick it up. If you’re none of those things and don’t intend to be, it’s equally for you if you care what you put in your mouth. Honestly, it’s my favorite food / beverage book of the year. Get you a copy.
And in the meantime, here’s a teaser recipe for holiday season.
Garden to Glass Bloody Mary Mix
By: Mike Wolf
Turner Publishing Co c 2019
2 quarts tomato juice
12 ounces celery juice
6 ounces beet juice
3 ounces cucumber juice
3 ounces lemon juice
1 ounce lime juice
3 ounces Celery Cordial (2 cups chopped celery stems and tops, steeped for 24 hours in a quart of a cold batch of rich simple syrup)
2 ounces pickle juice
6 dashes Celery Bitters
3 tablespoons kosher salt
12 turns freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons celery seed
2 tablespoons dried dill (or dill weed, but I don’t know why it’s called a weed just because it’s dried)
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons basil seed
2 teaspoons celery salt
2 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika, if you’ve got it)
Pinch of dried marjoram
1 teaspoon garlic powder
25-50 dashes hot sauce (such as Valentina)
A few shakes of dried cayenne pepper
Directions: Combine all the ingredients except the hot sauce and cayenne in a large sterilized container and whisk vigorously to incorporate. If you have a stick blender, that will do wonders in terms of mixing everything together. Taste the mix and add hot sauce to taste, depending on how hot you like your Bloody Mary, then add the cayenne. This will give the mix a lot of “pop,” so add a little at a time until you’re happy with the flavor. Kept in the refrigerator, the mix will last for around 2 weeks.